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NASCAR heads to the one-mile, minimally-banked New Hampshire Motor Speedway this week for Round 22 of the 2021 season. The Foxwood Resort Casino 301 is one of the shortest races on the calendar, but it pays just as many points as the 500-milers – and has an equal opportunity to be disruptive to the playoffs if another unique winner finds his way to Victory Lane.
While Phoenix Raceway is the track most similar to New Hampshire because of its length and banking, when we run the script to make predictions for this race, we will also look at Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway. Those two short tracks are minimally-banked as well. Many of the same skills are required to go fast on all four tracks.
So far this year, five drivers have swept the top 10 on short, flat tracks. Two of them swept the top five. These are rhythm courses, so pay attention to the streaks listed below.
Expect every driver to leave their last bit of energy at the racetrack this week as the series takes a two-week vacation from racing so that America can watch the Olympics. We will return to consecutive road courses at Watkins Glen International and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, followed by the two-mile Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway. The countdown is on.
All season, traders have consistently awarded Denny Hamlin (+600) low odds that have very little to do with what is happening on the track. This week, the line looks about as it should since perhaps the greatest driver of our time on short, flat tracks has struggled to find Victory Lane through 21 races. Hamlin opened at +675 and has already had 75 points shaved from his total as early money flowed in.
By this point last year, Hamlin had five victories, including one on the 2.5-mile flat track of Pocono Raceway. Is he worth the wager? Absolutely. While he has not yet won, three of his best opportunities came at Phoenix and Martinsville with third-place finishes and a second at Richmond. In 2019, Hamlin had a perfect record of top-fives on short, flat tracks and won the next-to-last race that year at Phoenix.
Hamlin’s last two New Hampshire starts ended in second-place finishes.
As for the level of aggression he will bring to the track? Well, let’s just say you wouldn't want to be a passenger in the lead car when Hamlin catches up to it. After all, if he ruffles some feathers and rumples some fenders, the drivers have two weeks to get over it.
Best Bets for a top five
Martin Truex, Jr. (+450) opened at +625 as the second-favorite driver to Kyle Larson’s +520. It didn’t take long for smart bettors to jump on Truex and as of Wednesday morning, he was the favorite at +450. That is a lot of confidence for a driver who has not yet won on this track. He’s done everything else, however, and enters the weekend with four top-fives and a worst of seventh in his last six New Hampshire attempts. Truex has wins this season at Phoenix and Martinsville.
Early indications are that Joe Gibbs Racing has fixed a lot of their issues. Kyle Busch (+675) was the first to show consistent strength and with the exception of Nashville Superspeedway, he has six top-fives in his last seven attempts. Many of these have come after he had on-track activity during the week, but as he gathered momentum that strength spread to tracks without practice. Busch’s turnaround began with the Buschy McBusch 400 win. This week, he could add a third victory to the list.
Hendrick Motorsports has revealed a chink in their armor, but it is much too soon to stop considering them as top-five Best Bets. It is likely that Larson (+550) opened as the favorite at PointsBet Sportsbook because of Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion: momentum carried him forward. But his line was substantially more attractive after posting back-to-back, sub-15th-place finish in the past two weeks. If your strategy requires betting the entire top of the order in varying degrees of aggression, don’t commit too much on Larson, but you won’t want to fade him either.
Larson will be even more formidable now that he has announced a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2023.
Chase Elliott (+850) needs an oval victory this year before the playoffs begin. The chances are good that he could get one this week. His New Hampshire record is not the greatest with one top-five and another top-10 in seven races, but he has shown a lot of strength on short, flat tracks in the past two years. If he can rekindle his championship spirit, he won back-to-back at Martinsville and Phoenix last fall. He entered the Richmond Toyota Owners 400 with eight consecutive top-10s and left with a 12th. A recent win at Road America and a hard fought seventh last week in Atlanta puts him in the right frame of mind.
Best Bets for a top 10
While we didn’t pick him as even a top-10 driver last week, a lesson can be learned from the Kurt Busch Atlanta victory. Back in March, we predicted he would win at least once this year with a line that would likely cover a year’s worth of bets (sans plate tracks). We said much the same thing about the driver of the No. 4, only with the caveat that you would need multiple wins.
Like Hamlin, Kevin Harvick (+1500) is poised to break out and when he does, he is going to win multiple times. When it first happens, it will also seem to be a bit surprising. For now, all we can do is keep pointing out when he should have strong runs, New Hampshire has been a great track with three wins in the last six races there and top-fives in all but two of his last eight.
The Foxwood Resort Casino 301 could be a turnaround race for several drivers. Joey Logano (+1100) certainly needs something good to happen soon before he enters the playoffs with low confidence and no momentum. And if he can’t challenge for a top-five on a short, flat track, he is in serious trouble. Logano has been almost perfect in regard to top-fives on minimally-banked courses one-mile or less in length for the past two seasons. His worst result was a sixth at Martinsville and his average over those nine races is 3.2.
It’s clichéd, but a rising tide elevates everyone in the harbor, and with strong runs by his three teammates, it is time to pay close attention to Christopher Bell (+2500). At 25/1 odds, he is worthy of a unit or two of your dark horse budget because this track type has been kind in 2021 – and he has gotten progressively stronger. Bell finished ninth at Phoenix, seventh at Martinsville, and fourth at Richmond. Last week’s eighth at Atlanta and his second at Road America gives him even more momentum.
William Byron (+1600) is good for a top-10, but probably not much more. There is only so much room in the top five and we expect most of it to be taken up by Gibbs. Hendrick will score their share of top-10s, however, and the No. 24 driver has a current four-race, top-10 streak on short, flat tracks. He narrowly missed that mark at New Hampshire last year with an 11th, but his last two Phoenix attempts were top-10s.
It will only take a slight alteration in strategy or luck to put Ryan Blaney (+2000) into the top 10 this week. On short, flat tracks, he has finished 11th or better in his last five attempts with an average finish of eighth. Like Bell, he is coming off a solid run last week with a fifth-place finish. In fact, that is his third consecutive result of fifth or sixth in the last three oval races.